Calgary restaurants are closing, maybe for good. Their final mission? Feed those who need it most

Calgary restaurants are closing, maybe for good. Their final mission? Feed those who need it most
There were the 500 hand-rolled croissants and the hundred quiches. There were the cakes, the pies and the unbaked sausage rolls. That’s not even counting the cinnamon buns, the cookies or the boxes of French pastries.

When coronavirus began shuttering events and discouraging travellers to Calgary, the wholesale orders for baked goods at Patisserie Du Soleil Bakery began to be cancelled, too.

Facing the new reality, Char Brewer and Ala Nahal made the difficult decision to shutter the stores they had opened 21 years ago, which they now run with the help of their four children.

But that didn’t resolve the fate of the baked goods.

“We had so much stuff,” Brewer says.

Finally, Nahal suggested a sale, of sorts. They’d give the goods away, for the price of a donation to the food bank. Char was immediately in love with the idea. “There s so many people in our community, in our neighbourhood, that are elderly; there s so many people being laid off,” she said. “This is something nice we can do as a community.”

Canadian by the novel coronavirus, which has sparked closures of events, bars and restaurants across the country.

In Calgary, the heart of Canada’s once mighty oil industry, businesses are facing the double whammy of the virus and plummeting oil prices. The outlook for many is bleak. Many restaurants in particular are closing their doors without knowing if they’ll ever open again.

But despite immense pressure, many have spent their past few days on one major project: making sure their extra food goes to those who need it most.

Lourdes Juan is the founder of the Leftovers Foundation, which picks up leftover food from restaurants or businesses and distributes it to people in need. Up until this week, their busy time of year was the Calgary Stampede, during which they scoured the midway and pancake breakfasts for extra food to redistribute.

“I thought that was the busiest that we would ever be, like it’s ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth,’” Juan laughed, referencing the rodeo’s popular tag line. Usually they pick up two tonnes of food over the Stampede’s two-week run.

That is, until the past week or so. Their team of volunteers has collected 11 tonnes of food.

“We were building the plane as we were flying it; we had no idea how to intake this much food,” Juan said. “We also saw service agencies that were coming out of the woodwork, that just didn t have the access to food because they were having more clients.”

Air Canada donated 1,600 of the prepackaged breakfast and lunch meals it serves on flights, now grounded, which ended up going to an addiction treatment centre, Juan said.

The Calgary Zoo, also closed, volunteered fresh produce and dairy from its concession stands. Its prepackaged yogurts were especially welcomed by services agencies, Juan said, because they’re easy to hand to clients.

Steak chain The Keg came through with 20 massive prime rib roasts — “and they could have easily frozen them,” Juan points out — which will now be meals for families at the Ronald McDonald house, which supports families whose children are undergoing medical treatment.

“A lot of these larger institutions, you know, resist the food recovery under normal circumstances. So perhaps this is a new, eye-opening experience for them,” Juan said.

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But it is the small businesses, Calgary institutions such as Charbar, Broken City and the Palomino among them, that really stood out to Juan. Many of them don’t know whether they’ll ever open again.

“It’s surreal to see restaurants that you normally go into that are so bustling and busy and seeing them completely dead,” she said.

“I think that the sort of silver lining in all of this is what’s showing that we can band together. If we can close our doors together as a community, hopefully we can open them as a community.”

Char Brewer and her family also gave 1,000 items to the leftover foundation, and then had their first giveaway “sale” to get rid of the rest Monday.

First, they hauled tables out front so people wouldn’t crowd into the store. Everyone was in a very spaced-out line as they got a savoury pastry and a bag of sweet baked goods, she said, in exchange for whatever they could give to the food bank.

Char said they got a lot of students, who would begin with a quiet apology that they didn’t have anything for the food bank, so they’d tell them it didn’t matter and give them another bag of cookies.

Stefani Walstra lives nearby and had stopped by to grab some croissants and fresh vegetables for herself as well as some for neighbours with young kids.

For Toronto restaurants, the choice for now is to close or offer takeout

“We love this bakery and we’re sad to see this close during this time,” she said. “I think we’re realizing how close we are but how far we feel when we can’t chat.”

Terry Evans stopped by to make a donation to the food bank. Having recently been laid off himself, he said, he understood what a lot of people were going through. He and his wife make it a habit to donate to the food bank regularly, but the need is likely to be greater than ever now, he said.

“Even if it’s temporary, a lot of of people just don’t have the means to make it to the new paycheque, so every little bit helps.”

Brewer said if they don’t know how they’ll cover rent on their three locations for months she’s not sure they’ll be able to open again.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s a little scary.”

Still, she said, there was no better way to spend the last day before the stores were cleaned out and locked up.

“It s a reminder that you re part of a larger community, you re not alone. We re all in this together.”
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